Kompany making light work of Championship challenge with Burnley
Many within the football world thought Vincent Kompany was taking a risk when he agreed to take charge of Burnley, but the gamble is paying off with the Clarets top of the Championship. Scare stories surrounding the club’s financial situation were prevalent following relegation from the Premier League, especially after stars like Nick Pope, Dwight McNeil, Nathan Collins and Maxwel Cornet were sold and defensive stalwarts Ben Mee and James Tarkowski left on frees.
Kompany completely overhauled Burnley’s previously old and stale squad, which was predominantly British, with a clutch of signings made from the Belgian league, where he had been cutting his managerial teeth with Anderlecht after hanging up his playing boots. Having always been regarded as one of the game’s smartest thinkers during his time as one of the Premier League’s outstanding centre-backs during a decade with Manchester City, Kompany is now showing he could be on his way to becoming a similarly great manager.
Momentum building after slow start
Burnley won on the opening weekend, dominating possession with a 1-0 win at neighbours Huddersfield Town, but their form soon stumbled. They took three points from their next four games, including a 3-3 draw at home to Blackpool when they had led 2-0 after 11 minutes.
While Wigan Athletic were put to the sword with a 5-1 victory, defensive frailties remained and the Clarets let leads slip away to both West Brom and Preston North End, kicking off a run of four 1-1 draws in the space of five games. Burnley were controlling possession in most games but struggling to kill teams off, with a clear weakness at defending crosses and all set pieces.
A 1-0 win at Coventry City ended a five-game wait for a clean sheet and Burnley then ascended to the league’s summit for the first time this season with a 4-0 demolition of Swansea City. Russell Martin’s side were one of the league’s form sides when they travelled to Turf Moor on Saturday, but a four-goal defeat flattered them as the rampant Clarets finally ran riot.
Successive clean sheets signal Kompany is building solid defensive foundations, but the fact Burnley top the table having played well in just a handful of games is ominous for their rivals. The Clarets have been hard to beat, losing only once – Watford goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann was outstanding in his side’s 1-0 victory at Vicarage Road – but that Kompany’s team have drawn more matches than they have won in the Championship shows room for improvement. Such a huge shift in playing staff and tactics, coupled with Kompany re-learning the ropes in English football, meant that it was always going to take time for Burnley to gel. But now things are clicking it seems like a third promotion in three Championship seasons is on the cards.
Youthful overhaul but old heads shine
Burnley had one of the oldest squads in the country last season. While youthful loan stars like Taylor Harwood-Bellis, Ian Maatsen and Nathan Tella have impressed for the Clarets, it is two of the retained experienced men in the group who have arguably made the greatest impact.
Jack Cork signing a new contract was unheralded news at the time but the former Southampton and Swansea man has been pivotal in a key defensive midfield role. At 33 and with 300 Premier League games under his belt, Cork is simply showing that he is too good for the Championship. Burnley made 16 new signings in the end but many of the club’s fans felt they still needed a new striker. A move for Swansea star Michael Obafemi late in the transfer window failed to come to fruition yet local lad Jay Rodriguez has impressed with seven goals from 12 league games. Rodriguez is the same age as Cork and the pair both won a solitary England cap earlier in their careers. Rodriguez hit 22 goals in his last Championship season, when he was playing for West Brom, and he could be on track for a similar return this term if he is able to maintain fitness.
The right blend between youth and experience is often seen in the Championship’s best teams, with Burnley ticking that box. No team wins promotion from a league as unpredictable as the Championship in the autumn – and the impact of the World Cup is impossible to anticipate – but Burnley are in good shape. City legend Kompany could soon be back in the Premier League.